Self pity clouds our vision

“Why does this stuff always happen to me?” says the guy who just ran head-on into our car while changing his radio station. His second car accident in as many weeks and he feels like someone is picking on him. His driving record indicates that he might be the problem.

He has taken his rash of car accidents and tickets and done what healthy people DO NOT do. He has overgeneralized his issue. He is blaming it on bad luck. Now I do not know this guy - maybe he has a lot of bad luck in his life.

But I suspect that if he were a bit healthier, he might discover some ways to change that reduces the PATTERN that his brain has identified as bad luck.

Do NOT overgeneralize and fall into a self-pity pot. We do not need to ask why God is picking on us because we don’t need to adopt a distorted image of God just so our brains can take a break. God doesn’t tempt or test us to see if we will be a good girl or boy, nor does God withholds good things from us.

My new acquaintance would do well to admit that he has a driving issue, not a luck problem. Maybe some classes would get his competency up and his driving record improved.

When we adjust our thinking, we often find solutions to our problems. That’s good news!!

Lead me by your blessed Spirit into cleared and level pastureland.

~ Psalm 143:10, The Message

What about us is the same?

29-30 The Spirit told Philip, “Climb into the chariot.” Running up alongside, Philip heard the eunuch reading Isaiah and asked, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”

31-33 He answered, “How can I without some help?” and invited Philip into the chariot with him.

Philips helps the eunuch. He helps a servant. He helps a man that society was willing to mutilate so that he might work more efficiently. This is how God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, his angels and his people think.

The passage he was reading was this:

As a sheep led to slaughter,

and quiet as a lamb being sheared,

He was silent, saying nothing.

He was mocked and put down, never got a fair trial.

But who now can count his kin

since he’s been taken from the earth?

34-35 The eunuch said, “Tell me, who is the prophet talking about: himself or some other?” Philip grabbed his chance. Using this passage as his text, he preached Jesus to him. Acts 8:29-35

We can only imagine how the Eunuch, himself a sheep who was slaughtered, with no voice to change his society, mocked by all, his opportunity to make and build a family of his own stolen from him for the sake of squeezing out a few more hours of productivity….related to the story.

And that’s just it, isn’t it? It is the capacity to say, “Me too.” I understand that these are politically charged words today but, regardless of that particular set of conflicts, they are also sacred words because they communicate empathy, a true spiritual virtue. Our particular perspective is always shaped by our own experiences, expectations, and beliefs about the worth of self and others. Our perspective is always richer when we recognize what we hold in common.

Set it all aside and hear this: Jesus cares about the broken-hearted, the disenfranchised, the people that others in society are able to bully. God is the running Father who creates space at the table for all people, without distinctions.

You are on the team and you have a part to play

In this next parable, we read about how an angel of the Lord gives a mere mortal instructions, strange instructions, and Philip, the mortal follows the angel’s lead.

26-28 Later God’s angel spoke to Philip: “At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.” He got up and went. He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. The eunuch had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was returning to Ethiopia, where he was minister in charge of all the finances of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was riding in a chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah. Acts 8:26-28 MSG

Back in the day, men were castrated under the misguided and brutal assumption that they would be more attentive servants. “Candice” was historically the traditional title of the queen mother, responsible for performing the secular duties of the reigning king - who was thought to be too sacred for such activities.

Please reread that last paragraph. Breathe. Think about what was just said there. If you have the stomach to proceed and you have stopped laughing or crying, depending upon your personality, at the utter ridiculousness of those two historical perspectives, I will continue.

My point is this: look at what effort God is making to reach out to the eunuch. A man of shame, a man who literally has had his manhood removed. Imagine all he has lost, and yet he is valued by God. Notice also that the angel goes to Philip and asks him to participate as an emissary in the “running of the father” toward the eunuch.

Many times we expect to receive a strange call like this from God via angels or texts, burning bushes or according to a new tv show - by God friending us on facebook. We fret over knowing and doing the will of the Father - as we should. But this kind of movement across the heavens to earth with an incredible specific request needs to be seen for what it is - unusual. Not everyone will be summoned in such a direct manner. Most of us will be expected to make obvious choices that sit right in front of us concerning God’s will. Like be kind to each other; pay our bills on time; try not to gossip; do our best not to judge self or others. Stuff like that which is neither grand nor sexy, but is as important as anything God asked Philip to do.

God has a team. We are part of his team. That’s quite lovely. Are you participating or sitting on the sidelines? Are you willing and able to take small next right steps? As obvious and simple as they may seem, sometimes those are quite difficult to accomplish.

God provides

In a couple days, I will post about yet another parable. But before we get to that, here is a bit of a refresher course on the role of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is talking...

4-7 “I didn’t tell you this earlier because I was with you every day. But now I am on my way to the One who sent me. Not one of you has asked, ‘Where are you going?’ Instead, the longer I’ve talked, the sadder you’ve become. So let me say it again, this truth: It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you.

8-11 “When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.

12-15 “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said. He will honor me; he will take from me and deliver it to you. Everything the Father has is also mine. That is why I’ve said, ‘He takes from me and delivers to you.’ John 16:4-15 MSG

So here we have it. We have the eager running father, the knowing and loving and willing to travel to a hostile land Jesus, and now the Holy Spirit. “...the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is…”

Look at this! Jesus again reveals how much he KNOWS about his disciples; he provides for what they need. This is amazing. Why wouldn’t we assume he is also doing the same for us?

God. Jesus. The Holy Spirit. For us. What will be our response?

Having problems is not necessarily a problem

31 In the meantime, the disciples pressed him, “Rabbi, eat. Aren’t you going to eat?”

32 He told them, “I have food to eat you know nothing about.”

33 The disciples were puzzled. “Who could have brought him food?”

34-35 Jesus said, “The food that keeps me going is that I do the will of the One who sent me, finishing the work he started. As you look around right now, wouldn’t you say that in about four months it will be time to harvest? Well, I’m telling you to open your eyes and take a good look at what’s right in front of you. These Samaritan fields are ripe. It’s harvest time!

36-38 “The Harvester isn’t waiting. He’s taking his pay, gathering in this grain that’s ripe for eternal life. Now the Sower is arm in arm with the Harvester, triumphant. That’s the truth of the saying, ‘This one sows, that one harvests.’ I sent you to harvest a field you never worked. Without lifting a finger, you have walked in on a field worked long and hard by others.”

39-42 Many of the Samaritans from that village committed themselves to him because of the woman’s witness: “He knew all about the things I did. He knows me inside and out!” They asked him to stay on, so Jesus stayed two days. A lot more people entrusted their lives to him when they heard what he had to say. They said to the woman, “We’re no longer taking this on your say-so. We’ve heard it for ourselves and know it for sure. He’s the Savior of the world!” John 4:31-42 MSG

We leave this parable and I invite you to allow these words to sink in and soak in the deepest regions of your heart. I challenge you to consider that the decisions you make are bigger than your personal preferences, your individual needs, your wounds or even your hurt feelings.

God is not waiting. He is a running father, aggressive in his seeing and loving. Jesus as the Son of God sees and knows us intimately. Tomorrow we will learn more about how God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit work for our good. But know this: God’s plan waits for no man. He is the Savior of the World and it seems we are all in desperate need of salvation as we continue to live with a competitive, fearful spirit. We continue to live in the us versus them mentality that has plagued insecure, freaked out humanity from the beginning of time (think Cain and Abel). What are we going to do about this?

Changes in seeing lead to changes in living

27 Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.

28-30 The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves. John 4:27-30 MSG

A recent retreat was literally and spiritually mountain top experience for me and others. Coming home was a bit of a culture shock. It is easy to appreciate spiritual disciplines and a sense of community with God and others in an beautiful but artificial setting. Coming back into life on life’s terms can feel like a bumpy reentry.

But this is where we live and breathe. The key, I think, to understanding if our spiritual encounters with God have been absorbed by us is what happens AFTER the retreat. What changes for us?

In this story, the woman has just had this amazing and intimate encounter with Jesus and that is immediately disrupted by the typical and culturally expected responses of those darn disciples (we are all doing the best we can but sheesh!). In her confusion, which I imagine is a lot like coming out of the snow covered Colorado mountains and returning home to hot and humid Richmond (metaphorically speaking), she forgets her water pot (this is a big faux pax) AND she does something wild and crazy and radically different.

She speaks up. She shares what she knows. She invites others into her experience. She even asks them their opinion, allowing them to consider the situation and make their own decisions.

I have had a series of spiritual experiences that I can either hoard or share. But what I cannot do is coerce others to agree with me. What I will not do is stand silently by without at least inviting others to think about this amazing thing: Jesus sees us and knows us, even the least among us. He is showing up for us. Will we inquire about this mysterious, God-showing-up-for-us or will we just trudge along living life according to our past experiences, our prejudices, our comforting, self-soothing compulsions? Are we willing to CHANGE in the hopes of experiencing transformation? Jesus SEES and KNOWS and without blame, shame or condemnation, invites others to join him in this “gushing fountains of living life”. If this isn’t your life today, then maybe consider making some changes.

You are seen and known

He said, “Go call your husband and then come back.”

“I have no husband,” she said.

“That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.”

John 4:16-18 MSG

In many translations this parable is artificially named by bible translators “A Woman At The Well”. Much like the parable of the prodigal son is called, “The Prodigal Son”. In previous posts I mentioned how much I like how Dr. Dale Ryan calls the prodigal son story “The Running Father”. This fits with scholars who teach us that parables are stories primarily intended to teach us one small thing about God.

Applying these principles to this story, I would like to take the liberty of renaming this story, “Jesus Sees and Knows”. Because I suspect this is the larger point of this exchange.

Jesus knew things about this woman that make no sense. He doesn’t beat around the bush in getting to the point either. She reveals a partial truth to a guy she shouldn’t trust “I have no husband” and he replies with the full truth of her current situation.

The reasons why she has had five husbands and is now living with a man are not given. Women were often married off to older men at very young ages. It is conceivable that her previous husbands have died due to natural causes, since life expectancy wasn’t great in those days. This could happen without her being a serial husband killer. Obviously, something about this is not socially pleasing. Clearly she is withdrawn and isolated from the women in her community. But we do not really know why, do we? But Jesus knows and this is such a big deal. Here’s what we can surmise from the text without going crazy with speculation. Jesus “had” to talk to this woman; in this meeting, Jesus is revealing as much about himself (which is the point of a parable) than he is about her.

Here’s what I love - I love that Jesus continually allows the “least of these” to be let in on the love, grace, mercy, and “gushing fountains of endless life”. Feeling marginalized? Being told you are “less than”? Always feeling outside the inner circle? Maybe these feelings are valid, maybe they are not. But either way they hurt, don’t they? Consider the fact that Jesus knows your part in your isolation, the part of others in creating distance, and none of that matters as much as who he is and what he offers to us all.

Think about that!

Living in hiding is a form of pride

A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.) The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.)

Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.”

The woman said, “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us?”

Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.”

The woman said, “Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!” John 4:8-15 MSG

Notice the following:

* Jesus was behaving extremely inappropriately. He was initiating engagement with and asking for help from a foreigner he was supposed to despise.

* Jesus chooses to reveal himself to her, not as just some guy who has a hankering for cool drink of water, but he indicates who he is - the guy who gives “gushing fountains of endless life” - the Samaritan woman is the first person Jesus outs himself to.

* Jesus expresses a need. Outrageous!

* Women don’t go to the well in the middle of the day to draw water. We will discover more about why she was choosing to isolate herself from the community in future verses. Going to the well felt difficult for her; it was a potential point of exposure. She could only think in terms of survival and did not initially understand the possibility of a gushing fountain. She just wanted to avoid the well.

Notice that Jesus is willing to do uncomfortable things and behave in strange ways to reach out to the ONE. He was not efficient and uninterested in following the societal norms when they did not serve his purpose (That’s a big deal; he’s not being a rebel just to stick it to the man.). Tomorrow, we will find out another amazing thing about Jesus.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

So Jesus left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee. To get there, he had to pass through Samaria. He came into Sychar, a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down at the well. It was noon. John 4:3-6 MSG

“He had to pass through Samaria” cannot mean that he geographically had to pass through Samaria to get to his destination. Israelites regularly went around Samaria to get from point A to point B. Why? The Israelites had irreconcilable differences with the Samaritan people. They considered them “less than”. More on that in a minute, but first a question: who can you no reconcile with? Who do you avoid as a people group?

Last night we went with friends to MamaZu’s in Oregon Hill (a neighborhood in downtown Richmond, VA) for dinner. It’s a dive of a place with a crazy door. The screen door is on the inside of the establishment and the heavy metal door is on the outside of the building. It looks like a dump but the food is delish. Joe, one of my dinner companions made the comment that when he was a youngster, Oregon Hill was one of the roughest neighborhoods in Richmond and was to be avoided at all costs. Today we have several neighborhoods that vie for that spot but Oregon Hill is not one of them. Part of this historic avoidance was a people group thing. Throughout history, we struggle with creating false systems of us versus them. Brene’ Brown attributes this to the need for intimacy. This is a quick and dirty, fake way to feel intimate. We can believe that if we have a common enemy, then we are friends. But what if our common enemy is a friend of God’s? How do we reconcile that?

The Samaritans in biblical times occupied the country formerly known as the land of the tribe of Ephraim and Manasseh. Samaria was the capitol and had once been a wonderful city. When the ten tribes were carried off to captivity, foreigners moved in and the populations intermarried - hence, the first split. Eventually the Samaritans mixed their religious practices. They followed the Torah but kept some pagan practices as well. They opposed the rebuilding of the Temple after the Israelites returned from captivity. They served as a refuge city for outlaws from Judea. This was all a problem for creating harmony between these people groups.

No, Jesus did not HAVE to pass through Samaria for geographic reasons, tomorrow we will see WHY he HAD to. But do not miss this point: this was a naughty thing Jesus did in the eyes of the Israelites. This is breaking the brotherhood code. This goes against conventional wisdom. This stirs up conflict. This creates a PR nightmare. And yet, Jesus went.

How does our own desire to go along to get along interfere with making tough but right calls?

God desires peace between us

I once new a gal, decades ago, who had gotten divorced. She said that initially the divorce was painful for her because she thought she was displeasing God. After the divorce was finalized and a few years had passed, she came to a new way of seeing. “Teresa, God hates divorce because divorce is so painful for his children. He knows how heart wrenching it is for the two of us to pull apart the life we had joined together.”

I love that. Sin matters. Not because we are competing for God’s job in the holiness department but because, as we will see tomorrow in a very special way, God loves his children and cares about their suffering. It has nothing to do with winning, and everything to do with running the race well.

1-3 Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! Hebrews 12:1-3 MSG

I think we work so hard to compete for attention, affection and significance that we forget that we already have God’s full attention (he is after all the running father). In tomorrow’s post, we will consider who ELSE the triune God is.

Suggestions for reflecting God's image

Yesterday I talked about the implications of discovering things about ourselves that are inconsistent with being image bearers of God. Today, I want to suggest some very practical applications. (Read yesterday’s post to make more sense of this one.)

1. Be aware when what you are thinking, feeling, and doing is not a match with what the scripture says is the nature of God. Just be aware.

2. Do not compete to be more GOd-like than you really are - just notice it!

3. Take responsibility for the harm done when you live as an enemy of God (stand in opposition to his inspired way of seeing).

4. Practice the spiritual disciplines that challenge your way of thinking, feeling, doing and seeing the world.

5. Surround yourself with people that love you no matter what, but make sure a few of them have the courage to call you out in a loving, kind, way, every once in awhile.

6. When you can, do better.

7. When you cannot, at least own it and do not justify your choices or try to deflect blame to others.

Notice that this very short list of possible applications does NOT suggest that we can behave all willy nilly without consequence. Sin - what we affectionately define as “living independently of God” - is no small thing. But the question is WHY is it not small thing?

To be continued….

Competing for control is not a spiritual strategy

If the story of the running father in Luke gives us a picture of who God is, we have a complimentary story about Jesus and a woman scorned. But before we get to the juicy details about HER, let’s take a moment to see what happened first.

Jesus realized that the Pharisees were keeping count of the baptisms that he and John performed (although his disciples, not Jesus, did the actual baptizing). They had posted the score that Jesus was ahead, turning him and John into rivals in the eyes of the people. So Jesus left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee. John 4:1-3 MSG

Jesus does not compete. It is no secret that I love to win. I love to win at board games; I love to win at tennis. If I were being questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of the things I could repeat ad infinitum that would be true about me would be, “I love to win.”

Jesus does not care about winning.

Implications? When I come across a characteristic of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit that does not align with what I love, I need to check myself before I wreck myself. I practice losing A LOT. It really is not hard to do, life presents me with many opportunities.

I do not get to play the competition game. I have to set my competitive edge aside and step away from the steep slope of competition that threatens to endanger my capacity to bear the image of God.

Because I both love and hate this truth so very much, I continue to be confounded when I continue to find examples in my own life where my sincere desire to bear the image of God in my own life conflicts with my personality, preferences, and cultural mores that conflict with who God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit consistently teach us about their identity.

Do I do this well? Not particularly. But that is not the point. And if we make THAT the point, are we not just entering into another competition with self? Eugene Peterson calls that “mask polishing.” So what is the point?

To be continued...

Jealousy leads to misunderstanding

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:25-31 NIV

This was predictable. But the older son’s arguments do not stand up under the truth test. He says his dad never even gave him a young goat. The truth is, the father gave both boys their inheritance when the young one asked for his portion. Traditionally, this means the older son received twice the bounty of the younger. Oh jealousy, you green-eyed monster, you cause such heartache!

The running father has more than one son who needs unconditional love! Sadly, this son has yet to grasp the principles of his father. He has some sensitivity to what he perceives his father has withheld from him but he, much like his younger sibling, has failed to grasp the vision for living that this father has modeled for both his boys.

The running father pursues in love this resentful, angry older son with the same intensity that he ran toward the younger boy.

The scriptures do not give us further information about this family but I pray that the father lived long enough to see his boys become fathers; to see these sons grow into men who were willing to run toward their own children.

This is a hope for us all. We can also grow into people who can set aside our compulsions and insecurities. We can learn how to run toward others in love.

Embracing the shame

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and

was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son,

threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven

and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe

and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his

feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and

celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again;

he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. Luke 15:21-24 NIV

More about God. The running father SEES his boy; we can imagine him waiting in anticipation, day in and day out, for his son to return home. He recognized him too. Trudging across the fields with his head down, dirty and emaciated, no conquering hero returning home to praise and adulation here. Instead, a boy returns in humiliation and defeat. A not uncommon story for life is hard and few succeed on their first run at life.

And what does he receive? A welcome that is fit for a king. He receives the best robe, a ring and sandals for his feet. A fat calf. A feast. A celebration for a son who was lost but is now found. The father interrupts the boy in mid-confession. He will hear nothing of his negotiations and deals for reentry into the family. The father is having none of it. The boy is welcomed home because the running father loves him. End of story.

We do not know if the son ever understands the depth of the father’s love - a love that is itself willing to be shamed (fathers do NOT run and certainly do not expose their knees by lifting their robes to run) as the community sees him welcome the son who squandered his inheritance, lived in a distant land and chose a disreputable lifestyle. It may take this son awhile to process a robe and ring and fattened calf. Maybe he ends up grateful; maybe not. But the point of this story is NOT the son; it is the father.When Scott was in seminary he took a class from a guy who wrote a commentary on Luke. He’s got quite the reputation for scholarly research and understanding this gospel. He teaches his pupils that parables are primarily understood as short stories that teach one small thing about God. And so it is with some measure of confidence that I implore us to stop making this parable all about us (seeing ourselves as one son or the other) and instead, turn our gaze to the running father. Consider how knowing that this is who God is might change how we relate to him.

Gaining clarity about our problem(s)

Who among us escaped our youth without an indiscretion? The story of the prodigal son, if we make him the focus, is a common one. But from Dale’s perspective, looking at this as a tale of “The Running Father” turns it into an extraordinary epic adventure.

This matters, because I am suggesting that we must fight with all our spiritual weapons to keep the following truth in mind in order to avoid assaulting our virtue to the point that we become unrecognizable as a kid of God.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men

have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back

to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and

against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one

of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.” Luke 15:17-20

Notice the following while remembering that the point of all this is to help us remember who WE are in God’s kingdom: He came to his senses, but that did not mean he was transformed. This is a big deal. He had a moment of clarity, but I would suggest that he lacked vision. Notice how he spent his time practicing his “speech” - trying to figure out a way to get his father to hire him as a servant. On first blush, this may seem humble. But I would suggest that it is at some level an insult to his father. He is assuming that his father will need some kind of negotiated settlement for a return home.

Next, notice that he got up and went. This is also a big deal. He took action. Perhaps he was worried about his reception, maybe we are right in saying his moment of clarity has not morphed into a guy with a vision. BUT. He returned home. He had some sense about him. He realized that his father treated his hired men far better than he was treated as a hired man in a distant land.

Clarity helps us wake up to the fact that we have a problem; vision may take awhile to acquire. As we wait for vision, it is a lovely thing to get up and go. How might you be frozen with indecision, regret, shame, or guilt? Consider the clarity of this young man. He chose, the moment he got up and went, to believe that his father was the man he had always been - generous, giving, willing to suffer the shame of his community for the sake of giving his son his inheritance. This is who God is; this is who he can be to each of us.

Distorted Images of God

For the next few days, I want to take a look at some foundational teachings in scripture that challenge our forgetfulness and wrongheaded ideas about who God is and what he expects from us. First up - a passage of scripture commonly described as the parable of the prodigal son. We are going to unpack it line by line. This parable is found in the gospel of Luke, and it is part of a string of parables taught by Jesus.

Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said

to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ so he divided his property between them.” Luke 15:11-12 NIV

This is highly unusual. In some cases, fathers might divide up an inheritance before death (with twice as much going to the older son) but retaining the income from the inheritance until his death. In this case, the younger son has asked his father a shameful thing. To demand an inheritance is ungrateful, presumptuous and gives the small community in which they lived the opportunity to judge the father as weak and his son has unworthy. But the father, who loves his son, puts himself in that position in order to give the son what he asks for. Will the son repay that generosity with gratitude?

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a

distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he

had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country,

and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a

citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed

to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave

him anything.” Luke 15:13-16 NIV

There are three obvious issues here:

1. The younger son broke tradition and moved to a distant land, isolating himself from his family and tribe.

2. The younger son squandered his preemptively gained inheritance, putting his family in a weaker position financially.

3. He further demeans himself and his family by doing what no self-respecting Israelite would do - working with pigs.

This is the story of a young man who forgets who he is, but I do not think it is the central theme of the story. My friend Dale Ryan has renamed the parable from the story of the prodigal son to the story of the running father. I quite like that. For truly, as we are about to see, the story of the son is a common one - young people behaving in an immature fashion. But the father? He does something extraordinary. Stay tuned!